Thursday, October 31, 2013

Nassau or Bust

Nassau or bust....quite literally
I thought a northeast wind would be an advantage crossing the gulfstream, guess again. Five to ten knots of wind working together with the gulfstream to drive us to the north was quite an unexpected challenge. I tried following my GPS at first, but I couldn't figure out how to coordinate what my eyes were telling me with what the GPS was saying. When I headed 100 degrees by the compass my "course over ground", on the GPS, was 30 degrees??? I tried to bring my "course over ground" to 90 degrees and my compass read 160 degrees??? I looked up at the land and I was definitely facing south? My GPS is broken I told Marie. Wait a minute that doesn't make sense? By the way I was moving at 1.2 knots! Yeah this was to be a record crossing. I think a piece of driftwood passed was going in the right direction. After a confusing 2 hours it dawned on me that all my instruments were right and what I was experiencing was simply not enough wind conspiring together with the gulfstream to drive me crazy! After studying my predicament I concluded to set the most beneficial course, note I didn't say set a course where I wanted to go, but the most beneficial course. This new course gave me some speed and an acceptable course a bit further north than I would have liked. I figured that after I got passed the gulfstream, no drought too far to the north, I would then head south and reestablished my original plan.

Great Isaac Lighthouse
We went passed Great Issac Light at about noon, not in the program, on our way over the Bahama Bank towards the Northern Channel. The wind picked up quite a bit and now we were healed over hard, making good speed towards the Tongue of the ocean. Then Marie stepped out at about 2 am and said "that's way too fast, slow it down". Well I had been up for over 30 hours by now so I asked her to take the wheel while I took in the Genoa and she took the wheel so that I could get some sleep.
When I woke up the sun was up and took the wheel and continued pass the northern channel towards Nassau. Marie and I were both tired from a harder than average crossing. Marie noticed an island to our north and asked me what it was. "That's Chub Cay", I said, "wanna go there for some rest?" She agreed so I turned the wheel and we were at Chub Cay in a couple of hours.

Eva caught a starfish

Enjoying a sunset off of Chun Cay

The marina at Chub Cay. Quite a place to have all to yourself.

The club pool.

The ocean makes a great backdrop for the pool at Chub Cay

The cabana bar, half of the seats are in the water.

One of the unfinished homes at Chub Cay

The anchorage at Chub Cay was not so good, It was really exposed to anything but an east wind. We found out from a  local fisherman that it was going to get rough, a cold front was going to come through. I dropped 2 anchors and monitored the GPS for any dragging at regular intervals through out the night. It blew briskly, but the anchors didn't budge. The same old fisherman came by again and said it was going to blow harder tonight. I needed more wind like Custer needed more Indians. Well that was more energy and confidence than I had to spare. I called the Chub Cay Marina and asked if that had  had room for a 41 foot sailboat. Happily they said yes, and so we headed in for a good nights sleep.
Boy was it weired to find that we were the only boat in the marina. It was such a beautiful place, world class, but no one around? It felt like the after mass of a zombie invasion.
In all truth, what it was is sad. It was sad to see someone's dreams shattered so close to fruition, a sight too familiar these days. It was clear that this project, like so many others fell to a weak economy, but hay that's why I'm sailing today.
The staff at the marina could not be nicer. They offer to open the restaurant for us if we want to have dinner. I didn't take the offer. The kids had a beautiful "infinity edge" pool all to themselves.

A quaint street at Chub Cay Village

I received an email from my employer asking me to fly to Honduras in 5 days. I would need to get to Nassau to catch a flight out, but the weather was even worse. There was a small craft advisory in effect, but we decided to go anyway. It's only bout 35 miles from Chub to Nassau, how bad could it be? Well...let me try to explain this brilliant idea of mine. The winds were from the northeast, the current was from the southwest, I needed to head southeast. We were sandwiched between the current and the waves. I'd like to know who measures the waves for the weather report, this person is very conservative in his work! we pounded and then pounded some more. Slowly every item on the boat made its way out of its place and on to the floor. It was a mass exodus. The iron Genny has behaved like a champ although we have a bit of a scare about halfway though this crossing. For no apparent reason the rpm's would drop about 200 revolutions and then go back up after a minute or so. I thought for sure that I had a fuel issue. Oh great, I thought, what a nice place to do a filter change. In my usual form, I decided to try and get by until I had no choice or until I reached a marina, surrounded by nice calm water. After about 5 of these rpm episodes Marie comes out of the boat and tells me that her coffee maker had fallen over and was turning itself on and off  with each wave, pulling so much power from the alternator that it would drop the engines rpms. That was it, that the cause of our motor problems. Score one for procrastination.
We have a "Capehorn" self-steering wind vane that I recently installed on the Mirador. On I have to be honest with you, even as this contraption came together I hadn't a clear idea of how it was going to work. This is not a common thing for me to say. I just assembled it as instructed and let my doubts ride with a "we'll see". Well, I'd like to report that the Capehorn wind vane is amazing! I set wind the wind vane just as we cleared the channel out of Chub Cay, according to a beeline course on my GPS, straight to Nassau. Now this wind vane has steered us all the way to Nassau as if it were somehow linked to our GPS. I think it would have steered us into Nassau Harbor if I had the nerve allow it. Why are these not on the back of more boats?
We would be getting into Nassau late at night. I didn't want to pay Atlantis marina rates for an overnight stay so we decided we'd anchor in the harbor and take a slip at marina the next morning.
Not enough can be said for the feeling of pulling into a harbor after passage.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The first 10 days

I am surprised how little adjusting it has taken us to live off of the grid. All of Marie's demands for power, water, and heat now seem to be paying off. Well just a minute, lets take a step back, I've got this boat so complicated that I'm always holding my breath. Will this work will that work, and when I hear a strange noise I cringe. There are many little glitches that I somehow manage to overcome. I got about 100 gallons of water out of the watermaker before the high pressure pump fell apart. After some soul searching about what went wrong, we concluded that although the pump was new it was over 10 years old and the seals probably just dried out. A special thanks to the guys at SK watermakers for helping me out and getting the parts to me quickly.
Our friends Bill and Connie, on a trawler named Polan, invited us to raft up to them at the Columbus day regatta. With our 7 foot draft I thought it best if we arrive a Elliot Key at high tide, this meant we would have to leave Coconut Grove during low tide. Well no sooner did we clear the channel at the end of the anchorage, than we ran aground. The wind was blowing us further onto the shoal every time we got a little slack. If only I had a little more power (a tow) I knew could clear the shoal. Eva, our first officer in charge of ships relations, came on deck and flagged down an open fisherman. The captain was nice enough, but he was not up for a tow. Instead he offered the carry an anchor off to deeper water so that we could pull ourselves off as the tide came in. Help never comes for free, in this particular case, I had to listen to him rant about how I should work myself free and that I shouldn't be on the west side of Biscayne Bay. I took it like a champ. Just as he left and I started to pull on the anchor line a tow boat showed up and pulled us into deeper water, lickety split.
Back on course, we were off to Elliott, shaken, but not broken. We arrived at our destination without any further setback. Bill had picked out a great spot. I am really pleased with my anchoring setup. It may be slightly oversized, but man it's like a suction cup on the bottom of the ocean. That first night at Elliot we had the great pleasure of being serenated by Ken Gill and his daughter Summer Storm, cool name huh, look her up on youtube. I just thought the world of them.
Everyone in the raft-up was leaving the next day, but I really needed a little more time to amortize the effort of getting there, so we stayed another day. To me it looked like we were a hundred yards from the island of Boca Chita, so I got everyone into the dinghy, and headed for shore. For a while there it felt as though time stood still. On and on we went, but the little island just didn't get any closer. When I looked back at our boat, it however was getting smaller and smaller. Point, I need to get better at judging distance on the water. Boca Chita was bought by Mark Honeywell, yes the Honeywell on a lot of our electronics, in the 1930s. He used the island as a retreat and hosted extravagant parties attended by famous entrepreneurs, I wasn't there. In any case it is a great destination for a day on Biscayne Bay.
Mirador performed really well and my confidence in myself (how fast I can fix things) and the boat has been bolstered. One more going away party and we'll be ready to sail into the sunset. The truth be told I am a little embarrassed about a second going away party, it definitely seals my fate. I have to go!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

On the hook

We did it! It was one of the hardest things we have ever done. It was hard to find a place on the boat for everything we wanted to take along with us on our trip around the Caribbean. It was a literal game of Othello, but we were persistent. Our scheduled departure was July 5th. We had a big going away party at the dock on July 26th. We finally left the comfort of our slip at Dinner Key Marina on September 28th. Not a day went by that a dozen people didn't crack a joke about my departure date. For those of you who thought you were being original with your comments...think again. My tolerance of all the comments (exhibit "A"), I render as proof of my good disposition.
So okay, for the last few days I would threaten Marie with leaving the dock and she would convince (by convince I mean a scandalous altercation would ensue and I would just back down less I end up in a cell next to OJ) me to stay another day, this went on for about 5 days.
Minutes before leaving the dock. Photo by Connie.
Patty, at the dock office, would just laugh every time I walked in. She didn't think I'd do it. As high tide approached on that fateful day, the most unexpected thing happened, I won the argument. We started the engine and a small crowd gathered, witnesses of this great event. We released the dock lines and slid back, out of the slip. If anyone would have x-rayed my insides at that very moment the medical books would have to all be rewritten. Balls in the throat, heart in the stomach, guts in a knot, etc. It was unnerving as we traveled down the channel with only inches to spare under my 7 foot plus keel. The tide gave me a little advantage. We rounded the end of the main channel and made our way towards the southern end of the anchorage. I had my eye fixed hard on the depth sounder. I was not able to calibrate it back at the marina because of the muck on the bottom, it's 3 feet thick. The sounder was reading 5.8 feet at times, remember we draw 7...Perhaps I plowed the bottom like slicing cheese. This is one time that I thought "maybe the rising sea levels aren't such a bad thing after all."
We picked a clear spot to anchor, as close to shore as possible, a full mile. I released the anchor slowly and let Mirador drift back as I paid out chain. I let out about 45 feet of chain before belaying the rode, and we came to rest about 120 feet directly in front of another sailboat. The sailor was out on deck just watching as I stripped him of his privacy...oh well. I hope he doesn't like to hang out "au natural".
This is the view from my backyard, what did you pay for your view?

Our new neighborhood.


After all was secure we decided to put the dink in the water and go back to shore. We awkwardly struggled, using a winch and halyard to lift the little beast. This was not a choreographed dance. Once the dink was in the water I handed Marie our British Seagull motor and she mounted it on the transom.
Yeah you heard me, British Seagull. I thought that with proper care I could keep that little motor running and show it off as we traveled. It is a curio. I went through it a week ago and had it running like a charm...on the a bucket. We were in the dink, I started the motor and off we went at a snails pace. From the noise coming from the motor you would think someone was skiing behind the boat. Marie and I could not communicate accept for sign language. A friend passing by was saying something and we did our best to read his lips. The wind was in our favor yet I barely had enough speed to steer. I was watching the motor like a hawk and I could tell the stream of cooling water was slowly diminishing. Just as we neared the marina the motor stopped. The Seagull has a pull cord that you wrap on top of the flywheel and give a brisk yank to start. I had to square up in front of the motor to be able to get the necessary leverage to pull the cord. Marie stood up and moved forward balance the boat. As I tried over and over to start the motor the cord would fly back like a whip and eventually it found its mark on the back of Maries thigh. She didn't know what hit her. "What hit me, what hit me?" she cried. Not sure just how angry she was, I decided to plea the 5th. I acted oblivious, less she insist on a "tit for a tat", and want to hit me back. We gave up on the motor and rowed the rest of the way in. I then realized that the British Seagull has its rightful a museum, someone's mantle, but not on my cruise.
Eva and Hadrian bailing out the dink.